by Alexandra Curtis
Despite the fact that I have been in French class for nearly six years, I was still wary when my French teacher told the class we’d be viewing Au Revoir, Les Enfants, in conjunction with our unit on France’s role in World War II. However, my fears of staring at a black and white film with fast-talking French actors were assuaged when I saw the English subtitles.
I won’t lie, I did rely heavily on the subtitles to help me comprehend the plot. But even without them, the emotional acting would have helped me understand that I was viewing a powerful film, one that showed how war can break the most innocent of our society: children.
Set in 1943, the film follows the relationship of Julien and his friend Jean Bonnet, away at a boys’ boarding school. Unbeknownst to Julien, Jean Bonnet and two other boys are actually Jews, escaping Nazi capture by masquerading as perfect Catholic schoolboys. The school headmaster, Père Jean, spends the entirety of the film attempting to shelter all of his students from the cruelty of the war and the dangers of the Holocaust. At first, Julien and Jean Bonnet do not like each other, but the audience gets the pleasure of watching their relationship blossom. Juxtaposing this simple, beautiful friendship alongside the coldness of the war and the Holocaust, director Louis Malle creates something real for the viewer.
I will not share how the movie ends, in the hopes that you check it out for yourself, but the ending of the film in undoubtedly poignant. Malle leaves the film tugging your heartstrings, in a way that makes you realize the senselessness of violence. Why is it that we live in a world where a certain group could be targeted merely for their differing religious beliefs? Sadly, people are still singled out for their religion or race, making this a timely and timeless film. Overall, I have no doubt in my mind that Au Revoir, Les Enfants is my favorite foreign film, one that left me thinking long after the screen went dark.